Somehow, seemingly without anyone realizing, the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq (WAG-Qaumajuq), the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg honoured a Nazi sympathizer and fascist, Ferdinand Eckhardt, by etching his name into their buildings. These organizations only began to reckon with their honouring of Eckhardt after the Walrus published an article by Conrad Sweatman on Nov. 9, 2023 exposing this fact.
I use the term “sympathizer” because, while Eckhardt technically was not a card-carrying member of the Nazi party, he was part of a group with 87 others who made a public pledge to Adolf Hitler in 1933. Pledging allegiance to Hitler is effectively equivalent to joining the Nazi party itself.
Not only did Eckhardt pledge allegiance to Hitler himself, but, as Sweatman details, Eckhardt also worked for Bayer IG-Farben for several years before and during the Second World War. Bayer IG-Farben supported Hitler’s regime and also participated in crimes against humanity as the regime conducted human experimentation and murdered prisoners in concentration camps.
Regardless of whether Eckhardt was involved with those crimes, he still actively worked for this company. As an employee of Bayer IG-Farben, Eckhardt directly and financially benefitted from the Holocaust.
Sweatman shows additional pieces of evidence indicating Eckhardt’s sympathy for Nazi and fascist ideas. However, these two details are damning in and of themselves. All the organizations who honoured a man willing to support to Hitler and assist such a horrific company should be ashamed of themselves. Eckhardt was a Nazi. I have not found evidence that he ever once publicly renounced his past or denounced the Nazi party. Eckhardt pledged his allegiance to Hitler, he worked for a company complicit in genocide and never showed any sign of guilt.
Meanwhile, for years, Eckhardt’s name draped numerous respectable institutions across Winnipeg. The WAG-Qaumajuq, the U of M and the U of W each honoured the man. Admittedly, they honoured his achievements following his move to Canada, after which he served as director of the gallery from 1953 to 1974.
Both the U of M and the U of W have stated spaces named after Eckhardt are under review, including those bearing the names of Eckhardt and his wife, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté.
Eckhardt and Eckhardt-Gramatté contributed to Canadian society at large through their art and art preservation. Eckhardt held his position as WAG director for 21 years, and under his tenure the WAG purchased numerous pieces of Indigenous art, held Canada’s first public display of First Nations art in an art gallery and moved the WAG into its current blocky building.
Eckhardt-Gramatté, in her own right, was a prolific and award winning composer. She made such a contribution to the music scene of the previous century Brandon University awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Music
However, their names are permanently tainted by Eckhardt’s association with the Nazis and Eckhardt-Gramatté¡¯s tolerance of this. It might seem harsh to wipe away contributions because of political affiliation, but when the affiliation is with the most heinous ideology on earth, it is far from harsh.
Having said that, no number of achievements can wipe away the immense shame that accompanies supporting the Nazi party. Eckhardt’s legacy should never have been honoured in the first place, and his appointment as director of the WAG is a stain on such an important part of Winnipeg’s art scene. Eckhardt-Gramatté may not have been a Nazi, but she was more than happy marrying one. Scrub both Eckhardt’s and Eckhardt-Gramatté’s names from anything they are associated with.
Each of these institutions had decades to realize their failures, and it took a popular article to finally push them in the right direction. Any location associated with Ferdinand Eckhardt either through bearing his wife’s name or his own is an insult to those killed or impacted by the Nazis. I think honouring any other Canadian artist would be better for anything named after these two.
The Eckhardt-Gramatté Music Library at the U of M could be renamed to the Alanis Morissette Music Hall, for God’s sake. While the Morissette Music Hall is just an example, of course — though the name does roll off the tongue pretty well — any artist who has contributed to Canadian culture could be honoured.
Rather than make any change, the U of M has yet to permanently remove Eckhardt’s name. The U of M instead opted to lazily slap a piece of paper over it.
As previously reported in the Manitoban, U of M spokesperson Eleanor Coopsammy stated regarding the issue that any painting or plaque with Eckhardt’s name on it will remain covered until a review is finished. This vague statement combined with the U of M’s inaction is an embarrassment to everyone associated with the U of M.
Numerous students at the U of M would be reviled by the Nazi party Eckhardt was so fond of. Jewish students are first to come to mind, however, there are also disabled students, Black students, 2SLGBTQIA+ students and many others. Sending a message to all these students that Nazis have no place at the U of M seems much more important than ensuring there is no disrespect to a Nazi’s legacy, but that’s just my opinion.
The U of W is similarly waiting for a review to be conducted on Eckhardt despite the quite damning evidence of his Nazi past. A quick internet search shows that the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall at the U of W and U of M retain their original names online.
As far as I am concerned, there is hardly any need for review. Educational institutions should be places of progress, diversity and learning. The U of M certainly claims this is its goal with diversity and positive change being important values. Unfortunately, this is tough to believe when a Nazi’s name is scrawled on signs.
The U of W and U of M continue to drag their feet on taking real action. Meanwhile, Eckhardt’s name sits behind the U of M’s piece of paper, staining the walls of what should be a place of progress.